Update: 30.10.2008

Federal Council rejects initiative to ban minarets

The popular initiative against the construction of minarets has been submitted in accordance with the applicable regulations, but infringes guaranteed international human rights and contradicts the core values of the Swiss Federal Constitution. On 27 August 2008, the Swiss Federal Council recommended that the Swiss parliament reject the initiative without making a counter-proposal. If the initiative does not “infringe upon the core human rights that are recognised by all states and must be upheld by all”, in the view of the Federal Council, it is nonetheless irreconcilable with the various human rights that are guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and by the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UN Covenant II). It a press release, the Federal Office of Justice explains how the initiative

  • violates religious freedom and the discrimination ban
  • contradicts the core values of the Federal Constitution
  • ineffective in the fight against extremism, and
  • endangers peace between religions; hinders integration

The inititive has been a source of concern and indignation in Switzerland and abroad. The Federal Council acknowledged the initiative on 8 July, 2008, when it was submitted with almost 115'000 signatures, but, in a unusual move, had immediatekly voiced its opposition:  the "Federal Council will naturally be recommending that parliament and the electorate vote against the initiative".

Position statements by the National Council Commission and the FCR

The Commission on Political Institutions of the National Council rejected - but validaed - the initiative on 23 Oktober 2008. It argued that the Swiss poeple should decide on such a symbolic issue. The Federal Commission against Racism (FCR) claims that the initiative defames Muslims and violates religious freedom, which is protected by fundamental and human rights, and the ban on discrimination.

Initiative Launched

On 3 May 2007 a group of rightwing politicians launched a campaign calling for a nationwide vote to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland. They have until November 2008 to raise the 100,000 signatures required to force a ballot. Widely seen as a simple piece of electioneering ahead of October's parliamentary elections, the campaign was quickly condemned by senior government figures.

The People's Party parliamentarian Ulrich Schüler, co-president of the campaign committee, argued that the construction of minarets will create problems in communities and threaten the peace. He said it’s a matter of opposing "islamist constructions with an imperial vocation". He added that he had yet to receive the official backing of his party, but believed it would be agreed upon at its general assembly in June. Those behind the initiative base their attack on article 72 of the Swiss constitution, which allows the authorities to take appropriate measures to maintain the peace among different religious communities.

Officials Condemn the Initiative

Three cabinet ministers have condemned the initiative, which is unusual at such an early stage. Defence Minister Schmid and Interior Minister Couchepin offered their support to Foreign Minister (and President) Calmy-Rey, who told journalists on May 14 that such an initiative "could put Swiss interests and Swiss citizen in danger". According to Georg Lutz, political scientist at Bern University, the ministers fear that the affair could damage Switzerland's reputation among Muslim countries, who could, in turn, mobilise against Swiss interests and institutions. If it becomes necessary, the government could  launch a diplomatic counter-offensive. 

On 3 May 2007 already, Former Federal judge Giusep Nay called on the Swiss Parliament not to submit the text to a nationwide vote. He told to the Aargauer Zeitung that if the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Swiss Constitution can be changed by such an initiative, it could not be subtracted from international law. The European Human Rights Convention, signed by Switzerland, forbids discrimination in the protection of fundamental rights.

Swiss Muslims and Christians shocked

The president of the League of Swiss Muslims, Adel Méjri, said: "As an organisation that is helping Muslims to integrate and become model citizens, we are shocked by this initiative". He added that the construction of minarets is not even a priority for Swiss Muslims, and that there are other, far more important, issues to address, "but the launching of this initiative prevents the possibility of dialogue". Both the Protestant and Catholic churches have rallied to the defence of the Muslim community, claiming the constitutional right to religious freedom allows the erection of minarets.

Context

About 300 000 Muslims live in Switzerland, many of them from the Balkans or Turkey (with an increase from 2.2% of the population in 1990 to 4.3% in 2000). There are two mosques with minarets in Switzerland – in Geneva and Zurich, where call to prayer is not made from the minarets. Swiss Muslims can meet in more than 120 prayer locations, generally in Islamic culture centres. While some Muslim communities would like to build small minarets next to their centres, they have run into local opposition. This was the case in Wangen near Olten in canton Solothurn, in Langenthal in canton Bern, in Wil in canton St Gallen, Wohlen in canton Aargau and near Bienne in canton Bern.

Additional information

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